"It was always less about being perfect but rather not being good enough."Instagram/joey_pod

Content Note: This article contains brief mentions of lockdown.

I admit I was a little thrown, when the tutor at my Cambridge interview asked me if I was a perfectionist. To me, a perfectionist was someone always competing to be the best at everything, which I certainly wasn't, so I politely dismissed the idea. 

Well, the joke's on me. It took me a whole 19 years to figure this one out, much to the surprise of all my friends and family apparently. But yes, I am one of these people that have accidentally let their obsession with perfection take over their lives.  

It all began at a friendly family quiz night, where everyone took turns hosting a round of 10 questions about themselves for everyone else to answer. Obviously, we all picked ridiculous questions; the favourite of the evening being 'What is my National Insurance number?' As you can probably guess, my performance was terrible. It was all meant to be a bit of light-hearted fun until I realised afterwards how upset I’d become about it all. Why didn't I know that the names of my dad's childhood rabbits were ‘Spotty and Stripy’ or that he was born on the 21st week of the year? In my eyes, I was a failure.

The feeling lingered, despite knowing how ridiculous it was. I thought that perhaps I hadn't been listening to my family well enough and that I must be self-obsessed. But my dad had scored equally as bad on my round, so maybe I shouldn’t be so harsh on myself. I didn’t even come last! What was my obsession with having to be good at everything I do?

"I’d accidentally let my perfectionism completely distort my perception of my self-worth and the value of my friendships."

Then I realised: shit, I'm a perfectionist. 

Immediately, all my weird habits started slotting together to make perfect sense: always being the first person to cringe at anything I’d said or done, or the defensive excuses I made before trying anything new to make sure everyone knew that it was fine if I was bad at it, whilst simultaneously doing everything in my power to ensure I was actually fairly good at it. 

It was always less about being perfect but rather not being good enough. I wasn’t educated enough to discuss theatre with my thespian friends, or skilled enough at piano to even contemplate playing in front of a girl the grade above me. 

"I needed to teach myself how to decouple the idea that doing something, and doing something well, were the same thing."

Somehow, my fixation had morphed into this social anxiety that made me terrified of engaging in interactions that pitted me against those I had somehow decided were inherently “better” than me. I was terrified of what people thought of me, and had become intimidated by even my closest friends, despite having no basis for this feeling. I’d accidentally let my perfectionism completely distort my perception of my self-worth and the value of my friendships. 

Once I realised this, I decided to start a new project: the aim was to teach myself how to decouple the idea that doing something, and doing something well, were the same thing. All I had left to figure out was what I actually wanted to do. 

Having realised that my 20s were looming, I decided to consult an online pre-made bucket-list of 'things to do before you turn 20.' Apparently, the bar for reaching peak teenagerhood is pretty low given #10: 'Become addicted to a Netflix show and let it ruin your life.'  But I was still attracted to the concept of a bucket-list, so one day during lockdown, I decided to write myself a Cambridge bucket-list.

"I'm finally learning how to say, 'fuck it - I'm going to do it anyway.'"

I began my list with small, silly things, like 'use the photobooth at Vinyl', and 'find a way to the top of the UL'. But before long, the list began shifting from these classic student experiences, into 'Audition for a theatre part' and 'Join a society committee'. Somehow, I’d created a list of things I’d been avoiding out of fear, and now that I had them all in one place, I finally had my action plan to start overcoming this anxiety. 


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Mountain View

Onwards and upwards: A letter to myself in fresher's week

The first one I completed was writing a Tab article reviewing the chaotic assortment of movies I’d been watching over lockdown. It was clumsy, filled with incoherent text-speech, and I'd even managed to confuse Tom Hanks and Bill Murray as the same person. Despite this, I’d managed to actually do something despite the fear that it would most likely be bad and cringy. 

I’m still a long way off from completing my bucket list, but I’m feeling good about next year. I know that 'going on a rag blind date' isn't the biggest achievement in the world, but at least I'm finally learning how to say, 'fuck it - I'm going to do it anyway.'  And that’s a start.

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